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Published November 14, 2023 Updated November 14, 2023

Murphy Varnish pack

Reproduction of the 1883 Murphy Varnish transformation pack, USA, 2019

2019 USA Michael Scott Advertising Kickstarter Transformation Add to Collection

The Murphy Varnish transformation playing cards were originally printed in 1883 by Andrew Dougherty. It was an advertising deck for the Murphy Varnish company of Newark New Jersey, founded in 1865 by Franklin Murphy, the former Governor of New Jersey. Not only is this a clever advertising pack but it is also a stunning and iconic example of a beautiful and creative transformation deck*, as it depicts comical and clever pictures of varnish salesmen, people worshiping cans of varnish and all of the good uses for the Murphy Varnish.

This reproduction was produced as a Kickstarter project in 2019 by Michael Scott, of Mesa, Arizona, the founder of Home Run Games. The pack was offered in three different tuck case versions. The Standard edition (illustrated here) recreated the original in a modern tuck box. The Limited edition, with a print-run of 1883 decks, has a more colourful design, a vintage long tongue case, a custom paper wrap and a numbered seal. The Original edition, much closer to the 1883 edition with a print-run of 883 decks, was produced in a two-piece box with two numbered seals in the case and in the deck. The pack also includes “The Best card” (or early Joker) and a card giving details of the reprint.

reproduction of the 1883 Murphy Varnish transformation pack, USA, 2019 reproduction of the 1883 Murphy Varnish transformation pack, USA, 2019 reproduction of the 1883 Murphy Varnish transformation pack, USA, 2019 reproduction of the 1883 Murphy Varnish transformation pack, USA, 2019 reproduction of the 1883 Murphy Varnish transformation pack, USA, 2019

Above: reproduction of the 1883 Murphy Varnish transformation pack, USA, 2019.

* This was the pack selected to display on the front cover of the Hochman encyclopedia of American playing cards, US Games Systems, 1990 and the 2nd edition, 1993.

See: Field, A. Transformation playing cards, US Games Systems, 1987, p. 145

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By Peter Burnett

Member since July 27, 2022

I graduated in Russian and East European Studies from Birmingham University in 1969. It was as an undergraduate in Moscow in 1968 that I stumbled upon my first 3 packs of “unusual” playing cards which fired my curiosity and thence my life-long interest. I began researching and collecting cards in the early 1970s, since when I’ve acquired over 3,330 packs of non-standard cards, mainly from North America, UK and Western Europe, and of course from Russia and the former communist countries.

Russian Playing Cards

Following my retirement from the Bodleian Library in Dec. 2007 I took up a new role as Head of Library Development at the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) to support library development in low-income countries. This work necessitated regular training visits to many sub-Saharan African countries and also further afield, to Vietnam, Nepal and Bangladesh – all of which provided rich opportunities to further expand my playing card collection.

Since 2019 I’ve been working part-time in the Bodleian Library where I’ve been cataloguing the bequest of the late Donald Welsh, founder of the English Playing Card Society.


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